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February 1, 2005 > America's 'Other' Sweethearts

America's 'Other' Sweethearts

by Nancy Lyon

Love is in the air and America's salute to its sweethearts includes over 9 million Americans who will honor their companion animals with special Valentine's Day gifts. As with other holidays, along with the fun of giving your canine, feline, avian, reptilian and aquatic pals' expressions of your affection on this special occasion, there are some safety precautions to consider.

Local pet stores will be offering vast assortments of gifts from tasty treats, plush toys, edible Valentine greeting cards and clothing, to sparkling charms to attach to collars and harnesses. The list is long and you need to approach your purchase not only with a sense of fun but with an informed eye to protect your special animal sweetheart.

Because many animal guardians don't realize the perils that Valentine's Day gifts may present, the wonderful Best Friends Animal Society in Utah offers this sage advice gathered from companion animal experts nationwide.

Chocolate - As delicious as it is to humans, chocolate can be toxic to dogs because it contains theobromine and caffeine, stimulants which can be hazardous and even fatal to pets. Chocolate toxicity is one of the most common poisonings seen by vets.

Jewelry - Sparkling gems are appealing to our four legged and feathered friends too. Fido, Kitty or Molly's instincts may tempt them to taste the jewelry, causing stomach ailments and possible breathing difficulties. Don your new jewelry immediately, or place it safely away.

Flowers - Some flowers and plants are dangerous if ingested by our animal friends, including buttercups, calla lilies and tulips. The packaged plant food that accompanies some floral arrangements can lead to stomach problems as well.

Other dangers - A romantic candlelit dinner can turn into a fiery disaster by a pounce on the table from a curious cat. And scented cards and love letters spell danger if ingested.

Puppy love for puppy
Companion animal experts recommend keeping our pets content and out of trouble by presenting them with suitable presents of their own. More than three quarters of all people who love their animals in America give gifts to them on special occasions - and Valentine's Day should be no exception. From heart-shaped plush toys to Valentine's Day bones and pink and white "puppy popsicles," there are a variety of toys and treats from which to choose that will provide fun safely.

Or a day at the spa
Treating your dog/kitty to a comforting day at the salon is another gift idea. "February is actually a great time for a grooming make-over," said Val Penstone, national director of grooming for Best Friends. During the winter months grooming is often neglected and with the windows closed and the heaters on, low humidity can make skin and coat dry and scaly. A thorough grooming will leave them clean and comfortable from head to toe - and much nicer to be near. Top off your friend's new "do" with a pretty sweetheart or festive red denim-and-daisy collar, both with matching leads, and you'll both be ready for spring.

It's never a good idea to give live animals as gifts. Once the momentary rush is over, there is the reality of lifelong care and commitment on the part of the recipient. Too many of these "gifts" end up neglected or abandoned at the animal shelter.

Do it yourself
One way to insure wholesome treats is to make them yourself. The following recipe is well received by dogs and cats alike and can be cut into the appropriate heart shape for Valentine's Day.

Valentine Critter Treats
5 C whole wheat flour
2 eggs (from free-roaming chickens, please) or equivalent egg-replacer
1 C non-fat dry milk
6 Tbs. powered veggie bouillon
1 1/2 cube margarine
1 C hot water
* For cats you may add 1 tsp. of catnip

Mix flour, dry milk. Beat margarine and eggs together. Dissolve veggie bouillon in hot water. Combine ingredients and knead for three minutes. Texture should be firm and not crumbly (add up to 1/2 cup water to achieve correct texture). Roll out to 1/2-3/4 inch thickness and cut into selected shape. Bake on lightly oiled (not necessary if using non-stick) cookie sheet in a slow oven (325 degrees - small ovens 350 degrees) 45-60 minutes until browned and crunchy. Add water by tablespoon in subsequent roll out to keep dough from drying out. Approximately 90 small treats.

Check the ingredients with your vet if your pet has any food allergies.

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